Friday, 18 October 2013


← #14: CUUSHE #16: SAMUEL →

I have a lot of time for the very talented Aristophanes貍貓. Long story short, she's a female rapper/MC from Taiwan who has collaborated with quite a few up-and-coming, experimental producers, including Canooooopy and Lidly. I can't remember how, but I first stumbled across her song 'The Peach Blossom' - it's a dreamy showcase of Aristophanes' evocative and effortless flow, drenched as it is with tones that ache with longing. Her voice is one that sticks with you: whether it's slow and considered or delivering rapid-fire rhymes, it's distinct and expressive.

It's at this point that I'd like to mention that I know she raps in Mandarin. I can't understand Mandarin. Can you? I reiterate: I can't. But it's possible to actually enjoy music without knowing what people are saying - how many raps do you know all the words to without looking up the lyrics? Yeah, exactly. It is, however, very nice to know what the lyrics are. With Aristophanes herself rapping about many things, from Nietszche and the politics of Taiwan, to old Chinese folk tales and love, it would be cool to know exactly how she is approaching these subjects. On the plus side, we can be sure that her delivery, the expression she puts into delivering her lyrics, is spot-on.

Anyway, without further ado, here is some insight into the inner workings of the creative mind that is Aristophanes - yep, it's another Lazy Interview, a semi-regular Q&A with artists I've written about on YES/NO before. Read on read on...

Who are you? Where are you from? What do you do?
 I’m a female MC from Taiwan. Most people call me Aristophanes in the music world (yes I picked this Greek name as my stage name), and many people call me Li (but this name has nothing to do with my real name though it looks like a Chinese name). Now I am a teacher, and my job is helping children to write stories.

Why did you decide to start creating music?
 I had never thought of making music till I listened to the first Chinese rap song 3 years ago. I tried to write novels and danced a lot then. I love reading. But I rarely listened to music. My love of music is generated from my love of literature. The very first time I found that rap lyrics are like poems, I thought that I could also express myself like a rapper.

How would you describe your sound? What makes you and your style stand out?
 Actually I’ve never thought of how I would describe my sound. Only listeners have the right to describe. I just create sound and make myself die in the sound after each song is completed. I rarely listen to my songs. To me, they are just fossils and specimens. I’m more interested in the unknown creature - my songs not yet written down.

 What makes my style stand out? The culture I grow up in and my instinct do. My body, my voice and my thoughts are shaped in Taiwan. And my instinct captures my love, anger and my definition of art. Maybe my gender plays an important role in it, too. But I don’t want to emphasize all of them. If someone took off my culture, my instinct and my gender, my independent soul would be naked but still feel safe because it’s fearless to say anything.

Is there a perfect time and place for listening to your music?
 I don’t know. I always listen to my songs in my studio because I’m recording them. Sometimes in the taxi because I need to memorize the lyrics in case I fuck up in shows. I believe that’s the worst place and time to listen to my music. Any place and any time are better than that! I’m not sure if I claimed that the best way to listen to my music is standing on the top of a palm tree whilst a storm tries to pull you down, would somebody try?

What inspires you most when writing a song?
 Mostly images. Sometimes just a color came up in my mind, and I thought “the color of this beat is blue!” or something like that. So I use this to take pictures with my eyes in my life, like a bee collecting pollen. Sometimes movies and stories inspires me.

What is your most memorable musical experience?
 Maybe the first time I heard Jean Grae in The Roots’ album. I was on my way home and listening their album “Tipping Point”. I fell in love with her flow then. She inspires me a lot!

What are your favourite three songs at the moment?
 Akua Naru – The Journey Aflame
 Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo – Let Me Go
 Sainkho Namtchylak – Tuva Blues

Who do you most admire in the music world?
 This is a difficult question because there are so many great minds existing in the music world. When it comes to MCs, I admire Sibitt [of Triune Gods] (a genius based out of Japan), Talib Kweli (because of his flow) and Akua Naru (the ways she presents her voice). Producers like J Dilla, Madlib, 9th wonder… and some musicians who are not defined as “hip hop” artists, like Sainkho Namtchylak.

In your opinion, what is the future of music?
 The great minds that can dig deeper into the possibilities of humanity will be the future of music. That’s the future. Maybe it sounds ridiculous because it seems there's no straight relevance between my answer and music. But what are we thinking of the “future”? I believe this term has something to do with “progress”. Not only the passing of time, but also something new and better generates “future”. I don’t think the form of music is the most important thing to define “what’s new”. So many styles pop out then disappear in a short time, and I pay no attention to their short life and I don’t define them as future. Only the great minds can make the future no matter what kind of music they make. If there is no “progress”, the coming 10 years may be the longer “present” instead of being the future.

What's the future of your music - what do you hope to do next?
 I don’t know. It depends on the people, the music, and the thoughts I will meet in the future. If I have known what it is, I must have made it already. But if you need some clearer answers, yes I’m planning to make my first album now.

What, aside from music, is most important to you?
 Literature maybe. I love any kind of arts but most of time I read. I don’t have any time for writing now and maybe I will write some stories in the future.

I don't think anyone before has written as much back to me as Aristophanes has. Chatting with her after this interview, the 23-year-old told me that the hip hop scene in Taiwan is not mature at all - it's burgeoning, fledgling, but it's not there yet. As a result, whether she wants to be or not, Aristophanes is a pioneer. I've not heard of or from many other, if any, female MCs from the island nation, so for Li - another name Aristophanes goes by - it's an opportunity to make a lasting a mark on a scene that seems to have a long way to go.

So that's one thing. Her pioneering spirit. Then there's her honesty - especially in saying that "rarely listened to music" before she discovered rap - which not only makes her a more likeable person but which also galvanises her as an artist with integrity. In addition, her comments about the future of music are refreshing, inspired and inspiring in their own right. In some ways, it's very true that the style or form of music does not matter. Pushing the boundaries is what matters, exploring sounds and ways of expression is the true way to find the future.

What more can I say that she hasn't already said with succinct sincerity? All I do hope is that Aristophanes can help become a part of the future of music, rather than an extension of the present - her determination to truly progress and make something different, forgetting what her contemporaries may be up to, seems to be evidence of this. In any case, PLEASE check out her music I do highly recommend it.

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